Pubdate: Sat, 31 Jul 2004
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 2004 Richmond Newspapers Inc.
Author: Frank Green, Times-dispatch Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)
Bookmark: (Drug Test)


Detore Brown's future hinged on a chemical reaction taking place on a small 
strip of plastic in front of him. If he was nervous, he didn't show it. He 
slouched in the hallway watching his probation and parole officer test his 
urine sample.

The 24-year-old was wearing baggy jean shorts, a polo shirt and a baseball 
cap. His demeanor was as casual as his dress. "Have you used anything?" 
asked Nicole Peyton, the officer conducting the test. "No. I smoked some 
weed, that's all," Brown said, as if marijuana didn't count. The test 
confirmed marijuana use, but it also found he had used cocaine.

He first tried denying it, then he tried to justify himself.

He said he was coping with the death of his best friend, shot two days 
earlier. Peyton wasn't having any of it. "You've got to focus on the 
positive," she told him. "Using drugs means you've got to go into a 
substance-abuse treatment program." Brown whined: "I'm trying to focus, to 
work, trying to do programs and it's hard. It's just so darn hard." Peyton 
hears it often.

And she concedes there are many rules to follow and requirements to meet 
for a parolee or probationer. "I won't say that it's easy. But I tell them 
that there's a need for [all the rules]. In the long run, we're trying to 
do something that will be beneficial to them. "I like to think I'm firm, 
but I'm not adversarial." Brown was released after 15 months for two 
misdemeanor assault-and-battery charges and driving with a suspended license.

As of last week, he had failed to follow through on his drug-abuse 
treatment and had missed a scheduled meeting with Peyton. She has filed a 
violation report against him. . . . Peyton and her more than 630 colleagues 
in Virginia are on the front lines of the criminal-justice system, 
supervising more than 47,000 former inmates, many of them just out of 
prison. In a given month, Peyton meets with nearly 100 offenders, conducts 
30 drug tests, gains nine to 10 cases and loses four to five cases.

On any given day she will speak with five or six offenders on the 
telephone. Peyton said she does not seek to reimprison violators for minor 
infractions and works hard to turn around the ones who make an effort. 
Failed urine tests and refusing to meet with her are the main reasons she 
seeks to revoke parole or probation in about a half-dozen cases a month. 
Statewide, there are about 6,300 revocations a year. She said she tries to 
keep violators out of prison or jail "if I really think the person will 
benefit from drug court or in-patient treatment." Peyton has 101 men and 
women on her caseload.

Not too long ago, it was around 130 or 140. Colleague Suzanne Tarr said it 
is increasingly difficult to spend much time on every case because, among 
other reasons, caseloads are growing, despite Peyton's recent experience. 
Tarr said that when she was trained in 1992, she was told the average 
caseload was 65 to 80 offenders.

Now the average is 100 to 150, "and that's probably on the low side." Tarr, 
speaking as the president of the Virginia Probation and Parole Association 
and not as an officer, said that over the past 10 to 15 years, parole 
officers have been dealing with more and more violent offenders, sex 
offenders and substance-abusing offenders. At the same time, Tarr said, 
staff has been lost. With $6 million cut from probation and parole 
appropriations in fiscal years 2000, 2001 and 2002, 46 clerical and 16 
supervisor positions were lost. The loss of clerical staff means officers 
spend more time typing and less watching offenders, while the loss of 
supervisors means less efficient offices and poorer training, Tarr said. 
She also said that officers did not get a pay raise from December 1999 to 
December 2003, prompting some to leave. "We no longer have the time to 
spend on individual offenders," she said. "We spend most of our time 
putting out fires." Tarr also noted that guidelines went into effect July 1 
that could make it more difficult to lock up "technical violators," those 
probationers or parolees who break rules, not laws. Under the guidelines, 
points are assigned for different types of violations and for the initial 
type of crime.

Whether a technical violator is sent to prison or given an alternative 
punishment depends on the number of points scored. "Technical violators are 
not just nonviolent offenders.

Many of them are the violent and sex offenders that the general public 
worries about," she said. Some might not belong behind bars, but "at this 
point, we do not have the types of [alternative] programs that would 
benefit technical violators." Barry Green, Virginia's deputy secretary of 
public safety, said, "Realistically, even if money were flush, you just 
don't get as much [programs] as people would like to have." He said he 
believes more money will be found in coming years to deal with the new 
guidelines and future changes that would divert many technical offenders 
from prison to alternative programs. . . . In Virginia, as in many other 
states, the primary duty of probation and parole officers is public safety.

They also must work to help their clients re-enter society. Carl A. 
Wicklund, executive director of the American Probation and Parole 
Association, said offenders under parole or probation supervision and 
support do better than those who are not under supervision - some inmates 
are not released early and finish out their sentences with little, if any, 
parole or probation time hanging over them. But, he said, "if you have 
probation and parole officers who see their sole purpose as tailing them, 
nailing them and jailing them, they might be better off without 
supervision." Peyton has been a probation and parole officer for five years.

Her job involves a blizzard of paperwork generated by dozens of laws, 
policies and regulations developed over decades. She works in Adult 
Probation & Parole District 1, which serves the city of Richmond and is the 
largest of 43 districts in the state.

District 1 supervises 3,000 felony offenders. Most of the offenders are 
supervised by 24 officers.

Hundreds of cases are closed or opened each month. Most of Peyton's clients 
are drug offenders. Latasha Allspice, 41, has had a drug problem since she 
was 13. She is meeting with Peyton for the first time. Allspice has been in 
and out of prison for years and was shot once, in 1984. She had just been 
released from the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. Once she passed 
her urine screening, the first priorities were to see that she had a job, a 
suitable place to live and some adequate identification because she did not 
have a driver's license. "It's a struggle," she said, to stay drug-free. "I 
was smiling when I did my urine test. I knew my urine's clean."
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